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From the Arab Spring and los indignados in Spain, to Occupy Wall Street (and beyond), large-scale, sustained protests are using digital media in ways that go beyond sending and receiving messages. Some of these action formations contain relatively small roles for formal brick and mortar organizations. Others involve well-established advocacy organizations, in hybrid relations with other organizations, using technologies that enable personalized public engagement. Both stand in contrast to the more familiar organizationally managed and brokered action conventionally associated with social movement and issue advocacy. This article examines the organizational dynamics that emerge when communication becomes a prominent part of organizational structure. It argues that understanding such variations in large-scale action networks requires distinguishing between at least two logics that may be in play: The familiar logic of collective action associated with high levels of organizational resources and the formation of collective identities, and the less familiar logic of connective action based on personalized content sharing across media networks. In the former, introducing digital media do not change the core dynamics of the action. In the case of the latter, they do. Building on these distinctions, the article presents three ideal types of large-scale action networks that are becoming prominent in the contentious politics of the contemporary era.
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W. Lance Bennett
& Alexandra Segerberg
Department of Political Science and Communication,
University of Washington, 101 Gowen Hall, Box
353530, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA
Department of Political Science, Stockholm
University, 106 91, Stockholm, Sweden E-mail:
Available online: 10 Apr 2012
To cite this article: W. Lance Bennett & Alexandra Segerberg (2012): THE LOGIC OF
CONNECTIVE ACTION, Information, Communication & Society, 15:5, 739-768
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W. Lance Bennett & Alexandra
Digital media and the personalization
of contentious politics
From the Arab Spring and los indignados in Spain, to Occupy Wall Street (and
beyond), large-scale, sustained protests are using digital media in ways that go
beyond sending and receiving messages. Some of these action formations contain rela-
tively small roles for formal brick and mortar organizations. Others involve well-estab-
lished advocacy organizations, in hybrid relations with other organizations, using
technologies that enable personalized public engagement. Both stand in contrast to
the more familiar organizationally managed and brokered action conventionally
associated with social movement and issue advocacy. This article examines the organ-
izational dynamics that emerge when communication becomes a prominent part of
organizational structure. It argues that understanding such variations in large-scale
action networks requires distinguishing between at least two logics that may be in
play: The familiar logic of collective action associated with high levels of organiz-
ational resources and the formation of collective identities, and the less familiar
logic of connective action based on personalized content sharing across media networks.
In the former, introducing digital media do not change the core dynamics of the
action. In the case of the latter, they do. Building on these distinctions, the article
presents three ideal types of large-scale action networks that are becoming prominent
in the contentious politics of the contemporary era.
Keywords collective action; contentious politics; digital media
(Received 14 November 2011; final version received 22 February 2012)
With the world economy in crisis, the heads of the 20 leading economies held a
series of meetings beginning in fall of 2008 to coordinate financial rescue policies.
Wherever the G20 leaders met, whether in Washington, London, St. Andrews,
Pittsburgh, Toronto, or Seoul, they were greeted by protests. In London,
Information, Communication & Society Vol. 15, No. 5, June 2012, pp. 739768
ISSN 1369-118X print/ISSN 1468-4462 online # 2012 Taylor & Francis
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anti-capitalist, environmental direct activist, and non-governmental organization
(NGO)-sponsored actions were coordinated across different days. The largest of
these demonstrations was sponsored by a number of prominent NGOs including
Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, Save the Children, and World Vision. This
loose coalition launched a Put People First (PPF) campaign promoting public
mobilization against social and environmental harms of ‘business as usual’
solutions to the financial crisis. The website for the campaign carried the
simple statement:
Even before the banking collapse, the world suffered poverty, inequality and
the threat of climate chaos. The world has followed a financial model that has
created an economy fuelled by ever-increasing debt, both financial and
environmental. Our future depends on creating an economy based on fair
distribution of wealth, decent jobs for all and a low carbon future. (Put
People First 2009)
The centerpiece of this PPF campaign was a march of some 35,000 people
through the streets of London a few days ahead of the G20 meeting to give
voice and show commitment to the campaign’s simple theme.
The London PPF protest drew together a large and diverse protest with the
emphasis on personal expression, but it still displayed what Tilly (2004, 2006)
termed WUNC: worthiness embodied by the endorsements by some 160 promi-
nent civil society organizations and recognition of their demands by various pro-
minent officials; unity reflected in the orderliness of the event; numbers of
participants that made PPF the largest of a series of London G20 protests and
the largest demonstration during the string of G20 meetings in different
world locations; and commitment reflected in the presence of delegations from
some 20 different nations who joined local citizens in spending much of the
day listening to speakers in Hyde Park or attending religious services sponsored
by church-based development organizations.
The large volume of generally
positive press coverage reflected all of these characteristics, and responses
from heads of state to the demonstrators accentuated the worthiness of the
event (Bennett & Segerberg 2011).
The protests continued as the G20 in 2010 issued a policy statement making
it clear that debt reduction and austerity would be the centerpieces of a political
program that could send shocks through economies from the United States and
the UK, to Greece, Italy, and Spain, while pushing more decisive action on
climate change onto the back burner. Public anger swept cities from Madison
to Madrid, as citizens protested that their governments, no matter what their
political stripe, offered no alternatives to the economic dictates of a so-called
neoliberal economic regime that seemed to operate from corporate and financial
power centers beyond popular accountability, and, some argued, even beyond
the control of states.
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Some of these protests seemed to operate with surprisingly light involve-
ment from conventional organizations. For example, in Spain los indignados
(the indignant ones) mobilized in 2011 under the name of 15M for the date
(May 15) of the mass mobilization that involved protests in some 60 cities.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this sustained protest organization was
its success at keeping political parties, unions, and other powerful political organ-
izations out: indeed, they were targeted as part of the political problem. There
were, of course, civil society organizations supporting 15M, but they generally
stayed in the background to honor the personalized identity of the movement:
the faces and voices of millions of ordinary people displaced by financial and pol-
itical crises. The most visible organization consisted of the richly layered digital
and inter personal communication networks centering around the media hub of
Democracia real YA!
At the time of this writing, this network included links to
over 80 local Spanish city nodes, and a number of international solidarity net-
works. On the one hand, Democracia real YA! seemed to be a website and on
the other, it was a densely populated and effective organization. It makes
sense to think of the core organization of the indignados as both of these and
more, revealing the hybrid nature of digitally mediated organization (Chadwick
Given its seemingly informal organization, the 15M mobilization surprised
many observers by sustaining and even building strength over time, using a
mix of online media and offline activities that included face-to-face organizing,
encampments in city centers, and marches across the country. Throughout,
the participants communicated a collective identity of being leaderless, signaling
that labor unions, parties, and more radical movement groups should stay at the
margins. A survey of 15M protesters by a team of Spanish researchers showed
that the relationships between individuals and organizations differed in at least
three ways from participants in an array of other more conventional movement
protests, including a general strike, a regional protest, and a pro-life demon-
stration: (1) where strong majorities of participants in other protests recognized
the involvement of key organizations with brick and mortar addresses, only 38
per cent of indignados did so; (2) only 13 per cent of the organizations cited by
15M participants offered any membership or affiliation possibilities, in contrast
to large majorities who listed membership organizations as being important in
the other demonstrations; and (3) the mean age range of organizations (such
as parties and unions) listed in the comparison protests ranged from 10 to
over 40 years, while the organizations cited in association with 15M were, on
average, less than 3 years old (Anduiza et al. 2011). Despite, or perhaps
because of, these interesting organizational differences, the ongoing series of
15M protests attracted participation from somewhere between 6 and 8
million people, a remarkable number in a nation of 40 million (rtve 2011).
Similar to PPF, the indignados achieved impressive levels of communication
with outside publics both directly, via images and messages spread virally across
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social networks, and indirectly, when anonymous Twitter streams and YouTube
videos were taken up as mainstream press sources. Their actions became daily
news fare in Spain and abroad, with the protesters receiving generally positive
coverage of their personal messages in local and national news again defying
familiar observations about the difficulty of gaining positive news coverage for
collective actions that spill outside the bounds of institutions and take to the
streets (Gitlin 1980).
In addition to communicating concerns about jobs and
the economy, the clear message was that people felt the democratic system
had broken to the point that all parties and leaders were under the influence
of banks and international financial powers. Despite avoiding association with
familiar civil society organizations, lacking leaders, and displaying little conven-
tional organization, los indignados, similar to PPF, achieved high levels of
Two broad organizational patterns characterize these increasingly common
digitally enabled action networks. Some cases, such as PPF, are coordinated
behind the scenes by networks of established issue advocacy organizations that
step back from branding the actions in terms of particular organizations, mem-
berships, or conventional collective action frames. Instead, they cast a broader
public engagement net using interactive digital media and easy-to-personalize
action themes, often deploying batteries of social technologies to help citizens
spread the word over their personal networks. The second pattern, typified
by the indignados, and the occupy protests in the United States, entails technology
platforms and applications taking the role of established political organizations. In
this network mode, political demands and grievances are often shared in very
personalized accounts that travel over social networking platforms, email lists,
and online coordinating platforms. For example, the easily personalized action
frame ‘we are the 99 per cent’ that emerged from the US occupy protests in
2011 quickly traveled the world via personal stories and images shared on
social networks such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.
Compared to many conventional social movement protests with identifiable
membership organizations leading the way under common banners and collective
identity frames, these more personalized, digitally mediated collective action for-
mations have frequently been larger; have scaled up more quickly; and have been
flexible in tracking moving political targets and bridging different issues. Whether
we look at PPF, Arab Spring, the indignados,oroccupy, we note surprising success in
communicating simple political messages directly to outside publics using
common digital technologies suc h as Facebook or Twitter. Those media feeds
are often picked up as news sources by conventional journalism organizations.
In addition, these digitally mediated action networks often seem to be accorded
higher levels of WUNC than their more conventional social movement counter-
parts. This observation is based on comparisons of more conventional anti-capital-
ist collective actions organized by movement groups, in contrast with both the
organizationally enabled PPF protests and relatively more self-organizing 15M
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mobilizations in Spain and the Occupy Wall Street protests, which quickly spread
to thousands of other places. The differences between both types of digitally
mediated action and more conventional organization-centered and brokered
collective actions led us to see interesting differences in underlying organizational
logics and in the role of communication as an organizing principle.
The rise of digitally networked action (DNA) has been met with some
understandable skepticism about what really is so very new about it, mixed
with concerns about what it means for the political capacities of organized
dissent. We are interested in understanding how these more personalized var-
ieties of collective action work: how they are organized, what sustains them,
and when they are politically effective. We submit that convincingly addressing
such questions requires recognizing the differing logics of action that underpin
distinct kinds of collective action networks. This article thus develops a concep-
tual framework of such logics, on the basis of which further questions about
DNA may then be tackled.
We propose that more fully understanding contemporary large-scale net-
works of contentious action involves distinguishing between at least two logics
of action that may be in play: the familiar logic of collective action and the
less familiar logic of connective action. Doing so in turn allows us to discern
three ideal action types, of which one is characterized by the familiar logic of
collective action, and other two types involve more personalized action for-
mations that differ in terms of whether formal organizations are more or less
central in enabling a connective communication logic. A first step in understand-
ing DNA, the DNA at the core of connective action, lies in defining personalized
communication and its role along with digital media in the organization of what
we call connective action.
Personal action frames and social media networks
Structural fragmentation and individualization in many contemporary societies
constitute an important backdrop to the present discussion. Various breakdowns
in group memberships and institutional loyalties have trended in the more econ-
omically developed industrial democracies, resulting from pressures of economic
globalization spanning a period from roughly the 1970s through the end of the
last century (Bennett 1998; Putnam 2000). These sweeping changes have pro-
duced a shift in social and political orientations among younger generations in
the nations that we now term the post-industrial democracies (Inglehart
1997). These individualized orientations result in engagement with politics as
an expression of personal hopes, lifestyles, and grievances. When enabled by
various kinds of communication technologies, the resulting DNAs in post-
industrial democracies bear some remarkable similarities to action formations
in decidedly undemocratic regimes such as those swept by the Arab Spring. In
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both contexts, large numbers of similarly disaffected individuals seized upon
opportunities to organize collectively through access to various technologies
(Howard & Hussain 2011). Those connectivities fed in and out of the often
intense face-to-face interactions going on in squares, encampments, mosques,
and general assembly meetings.
In personalized action formations, the nominal issues may resemble older
movement or party concerns in terms of topics (environment, rights,
women’s equality, and trade fairness) but the ideas and mechanisms for organiz-
ing action become more personalized than in cases where action is organized on
the basis of social group identity, member ship, or ideology. These multi-faceted
processes of individualization are articulated differently in different societies, but
include the propensity to develop flexible political identifications based on per-
sonal lifestyles (Giddens 1991; Inglehart 1997; Bennett 1998; Bauman 2000;
Beck & Beck-Ger nsheim 2002), with implications in collective action (McDonald
2002; Micheletti 2003; della Porta 2005) and organizational participation
(Putnam 2000; Bimber et al., in press). People may still join actions in large
numbers, but the identity reference is more derived through inclusive and
diverse large-scale personal expression rather than through common group or
ideological identification.
This shift from group-based to individualized societies is accompanied by the
emergence of flexible social ‘weak tie’ networks (Granovetter 1973) that enable
identity expression and the navigation of complex and changing social and politi-
cal landscapes. Networks have always been part of society to help people navigate
life within groups or between groups, but the late modern society involves net-
works that become more central organizational forms that transcend groups and
constitute core organizations in their own right (Castells 2000). These networks
are established and scaled through various sorts of digital technologies that are by
no means value neutral in enabling quite different kinds of communities to form
and diverse actions to be organized, from auctions on eBay to protests in different
cultural and social settings. Thus, the two elements of ‘per sonalized communi-
cation’ that we identify as particularly important in large-scale connective action
formations are:
(1) Political content in the form of easily personalized ideas such as PPF in the
London 2009 protests, or ‘we are the 99 per cent’ in the later occupy pro-
tests. These frames require little in the way of persuasion, reason, or refram-
ing to bridge differences with how others may feel about a common
problem. These personal action frames are inclusive of different personal reasons
for contesting a situation that needs to be changed.
(2) Various personal communication technologies that enable shar ing these
themes. Whether through texts, tweets, social network sharing, or
posting YouTube mashups, the communication process itself often involves
further personalization through the spreading of digital connections
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among friends or trusted others. Some more sophisticated custom
coordinating platforms can resemble organizations that exist more
online than off.
As we followed various world protests, we noticed a dazzling array of per-
sonal action frames that spread through social media. Both the acts of sharing
these personal calls to action and the social technologies through whic h they
spread help explain both how events are communicated to external audiences
and how the action itself is organized. Indeed, in the limiting case, the communi-
cation network becomes the organizational form of the political action (Earl &
Kimport 2011). We explore the range of differently organized forms of conten-
tion using personalized communication up to the point at which they enter the
part of the range conventionally understood as social movements. This is the
boundary zone in which what we refer to as connective action gives way to col-
lective action.
The case of PPF occupies an interesting part of this range of contentious
action because there were many conventional organizations involved in the
mobilization, from churches to social justice NGOs. Yet, visitor s to the soph-
isticated, stand alone, PPF coordinating platfor m (which served as an interest-
political demands on the organizational agendas of the protest sponsor s.
Instead, visitors to the organizing site were met with an impressive ar ray of
social technologies, enabling them to communicate in their own terms with
each other and with various political targets. The centerpiece of the P PF site
was a prominent text box under an image of a megaphone that invited the
visitor to ‘Send Your Own Message to the G20’. Many of the m essages to
the G20 ec hoed the easy-to-per sonalize action frame of PPF, and they also
revealed a broad a range of per sonal thoughts about the cr isis and possible
‘PPF’ as a personal action frame was easy to shape and share with friends
near and far. It became a powerful example of what students of viral communi-
cation refer to as a meme: a symbolic pac ket that travels easily across large and
diverse populations because it is easy to imitate, adapt personally, and share
broadly with others. Memes are network building and bridging units of social
information transmission similar to genes in the biological sphere (Dawkins
1989). They travel through personal appropriation, and then by imitation and
personalized expression via social sharing in ways that help others appropriate,
imitate, and share in turn (Shifman, forthcoming). The simple PPF protest
meme traveled interpersonally, echoing through newspapers, blogs, Facebook
friend networks, Twitter streams, Flickr pages, and other sites on the Internet,
leaving traces for years after the events.
Indeed, part of the meme traveled to
Toronto more than a year later where the leading civil society groups gave the
name ‘People First’ to their demonstrations. And many people in the large
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crowds in Seoul in the last G20 meeting of the series could be seen holding up
red and white ‘PPF’ signs in both English and Korean (Weller 2010).
Something similar happened in the case of the indignados, where protesters
raised banners and chants of ‘Shhh ... the Greeks are sleeping’, with reference
to the crushing debt crisis and severe austerity measures facing that country. This
idea swiftly traveled to Greece where Facebook networks agreed to set alarm
clocks at the same time to wake up and demonstrate. Banners in Athens pro-
claimed: ‘We’ve awakened! What time is it? Time for them to leave!’ and
‘Shhh ... the Italians are sleeping’ and ‘Shhh ... the French are sleeping’.
These efforts to send personalized protest themes across national and cultural
boundaries met with varying success, making for an important cautionary
point: We want to stress that not all per sonal action frames travel equally
well or equally far. The fact that these messages traveled more easily in Spain
and Greece than in France or Italy is an interesting example pointing to the
need to study failures as well as successes. Just being easy to personalize (e.g.
I am personally indignant about x, y, and z, and so I join with los indignados )
does not ensure successful diffusion. Both political opportunities and conditions
for social adoption may differ from situation to situation. For example, the limits
in the Italian case may reflect an already established popular antigovernment
network centered on comedian/activist Bepe Grillo. The French case may
involve the ironic efforts of established groups on the left to lead incipient soli-
darity protests with the indignados, and becoming too heavy handed in suggesting
messages and action programs.
Personal action frames do not spread automatically. People must show each
other how they can appropriate, shape, and share themes. In this interactive
process of personalization and sharing, communication networks may become
scaled up and stabilized through the digital technologies people use to share
ideas and relationships with others. These technologies and their use patterns
often remain in place as organizational mechanisms. In the PPF and the indignados
protests, the communication processes themselves represented important forms
of organization.
In contrast to personal action frames, other calls to action more clearly
require joining with established groups or ideologies. These more conventionally
understood collective action frames are more likely to stop at the edges of com-
munities, and may require resources beyond communication technologies to
bridge the gaps or align different collective frames (Snow & Benford 1988;
Benford & Snow 2000). For example, another set of protests in London at the
start of the financial crisis was organized by a coalition of more radical groups
under the name G20 Meltdown. Instead of mobilizing the expression of large-
scale personal concer ns, they demanded ending the so-called neoliberal econ-
omic policies of the G20, and some even called for the end to capitalism
itself. Such demands typically come packaged with more demanding calls to
join in particular repertoires of a collective action. Whether those repertoires
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are violent or non-violent, they typically require adoption of shared ideas and
behaviors. These anarcho-socialist demonstrations drew on familiar anti-capital-
ist slogans and calls to ‘storm the banks’ or ‘eat the rich’ while staging dramatic
marches behind the four horsemen of the economic apocalypse riding from the
gates of old London to the Bank of England. These more radical London events
drew smaller turnouts (some 5,000 for the Bank of England march and 2,000 for
a climate encampment), higher levels of violence, and generally negative press
coverage (Bennett & Segerberg 2011). While scoring high on commitment in
terms of the personal costs of civil disobedience and displaying unity around
anti-capitalist collective action frames, these demonstrations lacked the attribu-
tions of public worthiness (e.g. recognition from public officials, getting their
messages into the news) and the numbers that gave PPF its higher levels of
Collective action frames that place greater demands on individuals to share
common identifications or political claims can also be regarded as memes, in the
sense that slogans such as ‘eat the rich’ have rich histories of social transmission.
This particular iconic phrase may possibly date to Rousseau’s quip: ‘When the
people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich. The crazy
course of that meme’s passage down through the ages includes its appearance
on T-shirts in the 1960s and in rock songs of that title by Aerosmith and Motor-
head, just to scratch the surface of its history of travel through time and space,
reflecting the sequence of appropriation, personal expression, and shar ing. One
distinction between per sonal action and collective action memes seems to be that
the latter require somewhat more elaborate packaging and ritualized action to
reintroduce them into new contexts. For example, the organizers of the
‘Storm the Banks’ events staged an elaborate theatrical ritual with carnivalesque
opportunities for creative expression as costumed demonstrators marched
behind the Four Horsemen of the financial apocalypse.
At the same time, the
G20 Meltdown discourse was rather closed, requiring adopters to make
common cause with others. The Meltdown coalition had an online presence,
but they did not offer easy means for participants to express themselves in
their own voice (Bennett & Segerberg 2011). This suggests that more demanding
and exclusive collective action frames can also travel as memes, but more often
they hit barriers at the intersections of social networks defined by established pol-
itical organizations, ideolog ies, interests, class, gender, race, or ethnicity. These
barriers often require resources beyond social technologies to overcome.
While the idea of memes may help to focus differences in transmission
mechanisms involved in more personal versus collective framing of action, we
will use the terms personal action frames and collective action frames as our
general concepts. This conceptual pairing locates our work alongside analytical
categories used by social movement scholars (Snow & Benford 1988; Benford
& Snow 2000). As should be obvious, the differences we are sketching
between personal and collective action frames are not about being online
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versus offline. All contentious action networks are in important ways embodied
and enacted by people on the ground (Juris 2008; Routledge & Cumbers 2009).
Moreover, most formal political organizations have discovered that the growing
sophistication and ubiquity of social media can reduce the resource costs of public
outreach and coordination, but these uses of media do not change the action
dynamics by altering the fundamental principles of organizing collectivities. By
contrast, digital media networking can change the organizational game, given
the right interplay of technology, personal action frames, and, when organiz-
ations get in the game, their willingness to relax collective identification require-
ments in favor of personalized social networking among followers.
The logic of collective action that typifies the modern social order of hierarch-
ical institutions and membership groups stresses the organizational dilemma of
getting individuals to overcome resistance to joining actions where personal par-
ticipation costs may outweigh marginal gains, particularly when people can ride
on the efforts of others for free, and reap the benefits if those others win the day.
In short, conventional collective action typically requires people to make more
difficult choices and adopt more self-changing social identities than DNA based
on personal action frames organized around social technologies. The spread of
collective identifications typically requires more education, pressure, or sociali-
zation, which in turn makes higher demands on formal organization and
resources such as money to pay rent for organization offices, to generate publi-
city, and to hire professional staff organizers (McAdam et al. 1996).
media may help reduce some costs in these processes, but they do not fundamen-
tally c hange the action dynamics.
As noted above, the emerging alternative model that we call the logic of con-
nective action applies increasingly to life in late modern societies in which formal
organizations are losing their grip on individuals, and group ties are being
replaced by large-scale, fluid social networks (Castells 2000).
These networks
can operate importantly through the organizational processes of social media,
and their logic does not require strong organizational control or the symbolic
construction of a united ‘we’. The logic of connective action, we suggest,
entails a dynamic of its own and thus deserves analysis on its own analytical
Two logics: collective and connective action
Social movements and contentious politics extend over many different kinds of
phenomena and action (Melucci 1996; McAdam et al. 2001; Tarrow 2011).
The talk about new forms of collective action may reflect ecologies of action
that are increasingly complex (Chesters & Welsh 2006). Multiple organizational
forms operating within such ecologies may be hard to categorize, not least
because they may morph over time or context, displaying hybridity of various
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kinds (Chadwick 2011). In addition, protest and organizational work is occurring
both online and off, using technologies of different capabilities, sometimes
making the online/offline distinction relevant, but more often not (Earl &
Kimport 2011; Bimber et al., in press).
Some mark a turning point in patterns of contemporary contentious politics,
which mix different styles of organization and communication, along with the
intersection of different issues with the iconic union of ‘teamsters and turtles’
in the Battle of Seattle in 1999, during which burly union members marched
alongside environmental activists wearing turtle costumes in battling a rising
neoliberal trade regime that was seen as a threat to democratic control of
both national economies and the world environment. Studies of such events
show that there are still plenty of old-fashioned meetings, issue brokering, and
coalition building going on (Polletta 2002). At the same time, however, there
is increasing coordination of action by organizations and individuals using
digital media to create networks, structure activities, and communicate their
views directly to the world. This means that there is also an important degree
of technology-enabled networking (Livingston & Asmolov 2010) that makes
highly personalized, socially mediated communication processes fundamental
structuring elements in the organization of many forms of connective action.
How do we sort out what organizational processes contribute what qualities
to collective and connective action networks? How do we identify the borders
between fundamentally different types of action formations: that is, what are
the differences between collective and connective action, and where are the
hybrid overlaps? We propose a starting point for sorting out some of the com-
plexity and overlap in the forms of action by distinguishing between two logics of
action. The two logics are associated with distinct dynamics, and thus draw atten-
tion to different dimensions for analysis. It is important to separate them analyti-
cally as the one is less familiar than the other, and this in turn constitutes an
important stumbling block for the study of much contemporary political
action that we term connective action.
The more familiar action logic is the logic of collective action, which empha-
sizes the problems of getting individuals to contribute to the collective endeavor
that typically involves seeking some sort of public good (e.g. democratic
reforms) that may be better attained through forg ing a common cause. The clas-
sical formulation of this problem was articulated by Olson (1965), but the impli-
cations of his general log ic have reached far beyond the original formulation.
Olson’s intriguing observation was that people in fact cannot be expected to
act together just because they share a common problem or goal. He held that
in large groups in which individual contributions are less noticeable, rational indi-
viduals will free-ride on the efforts of others: it is more cost-efficient not to con-
tribute if you can enjoy the good without contributing. Moreover, if not enough
people join in creating the good your efforts are wasted anyway. Either way, it is
individually rational not to contribute, even if all agree that all would be better
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off if everyone did. This thinking fixes attention on the problematic dynamics
attending the rational action of atomistic individuals, and at the same time
makes resource-rich organizations a central concern. Both the solutions Olson
discerned coercion and selective incentives implied organizations with sub-
stantial capacity to monitor, administer, and distribute such measures.
In this view, formal organizations with resources are essential to har nessing
and coordinating individuals in common action. The early application of this logic
to contentious collective action was most straightforwardly exemplified in
resource mobilization theory (RMT), in which social movement scholars expli-
citly adopted Olson’s framing of the collective action problem and its organiz-
ation-centered solution. Part of a broader wave rejecting the idea of social
movements as irrational behavior erupting out of social dysfunction, early
RMT scholars accepted the problem of rational free-riders as a fundamental chal-
lenge and regarded organizations and their ability to mobilize resources as critical
elements of social movement success. Classic formulations came from McCarthy
and Zald (1973, 1977) who theorized the rise of external support and resources
available to social movement organizations (SMOs), and focused attention on the
professionalization of movement organizations and leaders in enabling more
resource-intensive mobilization efforts.
The contemporary social movement field has moved well beyond the
rational choice orientation of such earlier work. Indeed, important traditions
developed independently of, or by rejecting, all or parts of the resource mobil-
ization perspective and by proposing that we pay more attention to the role of
identity, culture, emotion, social networks, political process, and opportunity
structures (Melucci 1996; McAdam et al. 2001; della Porta & Diani 2006).
We do not suggest that these later approaches cling to rational choice principles.
We do, however, suggest that echoes of the modernist logic of collective action
can still be found to play a background role even in work that is in other ways far
removed from the rational choice orientation of Olson’s original argument. This
comes out in assumptions about the importance of particular forms of organiz-
ational coordination and identity in the attention given to organizations,
resources, leaders, coalitions, brokering differences, cultural or epistemic com-
munities, the importance of formulating collective action frames, and bridging of
differences among those frames. Connective action networks may vary in terms
of stability, scale, and coherence, but they are organized by different principles.
Connective action networks are typically far more individualized and technologi-
cally organized sets of processes that result in action without the requirement of
collective identity framing or the levels of organizational resources required to
respond effectively to opportunities.
One of the most widely adopted approaches that moved social movement
research away from the rational choice roots toward a more expansive collective
action logic is the analysis of collective action frames, which centers on the pro-
cesses of negotiating common interpretations of collective identity linked to the
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contentious issues at hand (Snow et al. 1986; Snow & Benford 1988; Hunt et al.
1994; Benford & Snow 2000). Such framing work may help to mobilize individ-
uals and ultimately lower resource costs by retaining their emotional commit-
ment to action. At the same time, the formulation of ideologically
demanding, socially exclusive, or high conflict collective frames also invites frac-
tures, leading to an analytical focus on how organizations manage or fail to bridge
these differences. Resolving these frame conflicts may require the mobilization of
resources to bridge differences between groups that have different goals and ways
of understanding their issues. Thus, while the evolution of different strands of
social movement theory has moved away from economic collective action
models, many still tend to emphasize the importance of organizations that
have strong ties to members and followers, and the resulting ways in which col-
lective identities are forged and fractured among coalitions of those organizations
and their networks.
Sustainable and effective collective action from the perspective of the
broader logic of collective action typically requires varying levels of organiz-
ational resource mobilization deployed in organizing, leadership, developing
common action frames, and brokerage to bridge organizational differences.
The opening or closing of political opportunities affects this resource calculus
(Tarrow 2011), but overall, large-scale action networks that reflect this collec-
tive action logic tend to be characterized in terms of numbers of distinct groups
networking to bring members and affiliated participants into the action and to
keep them there. On the individual level, collective action logic emphasizes
the role of social network relationships and connections as informal precondi-
tions for more centralized mobilization (e.g. in forming and spreading action
frames, and forging common identifications and relations of solidarity and
trust). At the organizational level, the strategic work of brokering and bridging
coalitions between organizations with different standpoints and constituencies
becomes the central activity for analysis (cf. Diani 2011). Since the dynamics
of action in networks c haracterized by this logic tends not to change significantly
with digital media, it primarily invites analysis of how such tools help actors do
what they were already doing (cf. Bimber et al. 2009; Earl & Kimport 2011).
Movements and action networks characterized by these variations on the
logic of collective action are clearly visible in contemporary society. They have
been joined by many other mobilizations that may superficially seem like move-
ments, but on closer inspection lack many of the traditional defining character-
istics. Efforts to push these kinds of organization into recognizable social
movement categories diminish our capacity to understand one of the most inter-
esting developments of our times: how fragmented, individualized populations
that are hard to reach and even harder to induce to share personally transforming
collective identities somehow find ways to mobilize protest networks from Wall
Street to Madrid to Cairo. Indeed, when people are individualized in their social
orientations, and thus structurally or psychologically unavailable to moder nist
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forms of political movement organization, resource mobilization becomes
increasingly costly and has diminishing returns. Organizing such populations
to overcome free riding and helping them to shape identities in common is
not necessarily the most successful or effective logic for organizing collective
action. When people who seek more personalized paths to concerted action
are familiar with practices of social networking in everyday life, and when
they have access to technolog ies from mobile phones to computers, they are
already familiar with a different logic of organization: the logic of connective
The logic of connective action foregrounds a different set of dynamics from the
ones just outlined. At the core of this logic is the recognition of digital media as
organizing agents. Several collective action scholars have explored how digital
communication technology alters the parameters of Olson’s original theory of
collective action. Lupia and Sin (2003) show how Olson’s core assumption
about weak individual commitment in large groups (free riding) may play out
differently under conditions of radically reduced communication costs. Bimber
et al. (2005) in turn argue that public goods themselves may take on new theor-
etical definition as erstwhile free-riders find it easier to become participants in
political networks that diminish the boundaries between public and private
boundaries that are blurred in part by the simultaneous public/private boundary
crossing of ubiquitous social media.
Important for our purposes here is the underlying economic logic of digitally
mediated social networks as explained most fully by Benkler (2006). He proposes
that participation becomes self-motivating as personally expressive content is
shared with, and recognized by, others who, in turn, repeat these networked
sharing activities. When these interpersonal networks are enabled by technology
platforms of various designs that coordinate and scale the networks, the resulting
actions can resemble collective action, yet without the same role played by formal
organizations or transforming social identifications. In place of content that is dis-
tributed and relationships that are brokered by hierarchical organizations, social
networking involves co-production and co-distribution, revealing a different econ-
omic and psychological logic: co-production and sharing based on personalized
expression. This does not mean that all online communication works this way.
Looking at most online newspapers, blogs, or political campaign sites makes it
clear that the logic of the organization-centered brick and mortar world is often
reproduced online, with little change in organizational logic beyond possible effi-
ciency gains (Bimber & Davis 2003; Foot & Schneider 2006). Yet, many socially
mediated networks do operate with an alternative logic that also helps to
explain why people labor collectively for free to create such things as open
source software, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks, and the Free and Open Source Software
that powers many protest networks (Calderaro 2011).
In this connective logic, taking public action or contributing to a common
good becomes an act of personal expression and recognition or self-validation
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achieved by shar ing ideas and actions in trusted relationships. Sometimes the
people in these exchanges may be on the other side of the world, but they do
not require a club, a party, or a shared ideological frame to make the connection.
In place of the initial collective action problem of getting the individual to con-
tribute, the starting point of connective action is the self-motivated (though not
necessarily self-centered) sharing of already internalized or personalized ideas,
plans, images, and resources with networks of others. This ‘sharing’ may take
place in networking sites such as Facebook, or via more public media such as
Twitter and YouTube through, for example, comments and re-tweets.
Action networks characterized by this logic may scale up rapidly through the
combination of easily spreadable personal action frames and digital technology
enabling such communication. This invites analytical attention to the network
as an organizational structure in itself.
Technology-enabled networks of personalized communication involve more
than just exchanging information or messages. The flexible, recombinant nature
of DNA makes these web spheres and their offline extensions more than just
communication systems. Such networks are flexible organizations in themselves,
often enabling coordinated adjustments and rapid action aimed at often shifting
political targets, even crossing geographic and temporal boundaries in the
process. As Diani (2011) argues, networks are not just precursors or building
blocks of collective action: they are in themselves organizational structures
that can transcend the elemental units of organizations and individuals.
noted earlier, communication technologies do not change the action dynamics
in large-scale networks characterized by the logic of collective action. In the net-
works characterized by connective action, they do.
The organizational structure of people and social technology emerges more
clearly if we draw on the actor-network theory of Latour (2005) in recognizing
digital networking mechanisms (e.g. various social media and devices that run
them) as potential network agents alongside human actors (i.e. individuals and
organizations). Such digital mechanisms may include: organizational connectors
(e.g. web links), event coordination (e.g. protest calendars), information sharing
(e.g. YouTube and Facebook), and multifunction networking platforms in which
other networks become embedded (e.g. links in Twitter and Facebook posts),
along with various capacities of the devices that run them. These technologies
not only create online meeting places and coordinate offline activities, but
they also help calibrate relationships by establishing levels of transparency,
privacy, security, and interpersonal trust. It is also important that these digital
traces may remain behind on the web to provide memory records or action
repertoires that might be passed on via different mechanisms associated with
more conventional collective action such as rituals or formal documentation.
The simple point here is that collective and connective logics are distinct
logics of action (both in terms of identity and choice processes), and thus both
deserve analysis on their own ter ms. Just as traditional collective action
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efforts can fail to result in sustained or effective movements, there is nothing pre-
ordained about the results of digitally mediated networking processes. More
often than not, they fail badly. The transmission of personal expression across
networks may or may not become scaled up, stable, or capable of various
kinds of targeted action depending on the kinds of social technology designed
and appropriated by participants, and the kinds of opportunities that may motiv-
ate anger or compassion across large numbers of individuals. Thus, the Occupy
Wall Street protests that spread in a month from New York to over 80 countries
and 900 cities around the world might not have succeeded without the inspiring
models of the Arab Spring or the indignados in Spain, or the worsening economic
conditions that provoked anger among increasing numbers of displaced individ-
uals. Yet, when the ‘Occupy’ networks spread under the easy-to-personalize
action frame of ‘we are the 99 per cent’, there were few identifiable established
political organizations at the center of them. There was even a conscious effort to
avoid designating leaders and official spokespeople. The most obvious organiz-
ational forms were the layers of social technologies and websites that carried
news reported by participants and displayed tools for personalized networking.
One of the sites was ‘15.10.11 united for #global change’.
Instead of the
usual ‘who are we’ section of the website, #globalchange asked: ‘who are you?’.
Collective and connective action may co-occur in various formations within
the same ecology of action. It is nonetheless possible to discern three clear ideal
types of large-scale action networks. While one is primarily characterized by col-
lective action logic, the other two are connective action networks distinguished
by the role of formal organizations in facilitating personalized engagement. As
noted above, conventional organizations play a less central role than social tech-
nologies in relatively self-organizing networks such as the indignados of Spain, the
Arab Spring uprisings, or the occupy protests that spread from Wall Street
around the world. In contrast to these more technology-enabled networks, we
have also observed hybrid networks (such as PPF) where conventional organiz-
ations operate in the background of protest and issue advocacy networks to
enable personalized engagement. This hybrid form of organizationally enabled
connective action sits along a continuum somewhere between the two ideal
types of conventional organizationally managed collective action and relatively
more self-organized connective action. The following section presents the
details of this three-part typology. It also suggests that co-existence, layering,
and movement across the types become an important part of the story.
A typology of collective and connective action
We draw upon these distinct logics of action (and the hybrid form that reveals a
tension between them) to develop a three-part typology of large-scale action
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networks that feature prominently in contemporary contentious politics. One
type represents the brokered organizational networks characterized by the
logic of collective action, while the others represent two significant variations
on networks primarily characterized by the logic of connective action. All
three models may explain differences between and dynamics within large-scale
action networks in event-centered contention, such as protests and sequences
of protests as in the examples we have already discussed. They may also apply
to more stable issue advocacy networks that engage people in everyday life prac-
tices supporting causes outside of protest events such as campaigns. The typology
is intended as a broad generalization to help understand different dynamics. None
of the types are exhaustive social movement models. Thus, this is not an attempt
to capture, much less resolve, the many differences among those who study
social movements. We simply want to highlight the rise of two forms of digitally
networked connective action that differ from some common assumptions about
collective action in social movements, and, in particular, that rely on mediated
networks for substantial aspects of their organization.
Figure 1 presents an overview of the two connective action network types
and contrasts their organizational proper ties with more familiar collective
action network organizational characteristics. The ideal collective action type
at the right side in the figure describes large-scale action networks that
depend on brokering organizations to carry the burden of facilitating cooperation
and bridging differences when possible. As the anti-capitalist direct action groups
in the G20 London Summit protests exemplified, such organizations will tend to
promote more exclusive collective action frames that require frame bridging if
they are to grow. They may use digital media and social technologies more as
means of mobilizing and managing participation and coordinating goals, rather
than inviting personalized interpretations of problems and self-organization of
action. In addition to a number of classic social movement accounts (e.g.
McAdam 1986), several of the NGO networks discussed by Keck and Sikkink
(1998) also accord with this category (Bennett 2005).
At the other extreme on the left side in the figure we place connective action
networks that self-organize largely without central or ‘lead’ organizational
actors, using technologies as important organizational agents. While some
formal organizations may be present, they tend to remain at the periphery or
may exist as much in online as in offline forms. In place of collective action
frames, personal action frames become the transmission units across trusted
social networks. The loose coordination of the indignados exemplifies this ideal
type, with conventional organizations deliberately kept at the periphery as
easily adapted personal action frames travel online and offline with the aid of
technology platforms such as the Democracia Real Ya! organization.
In between the organizationally brokered collective action networks and the
more self-organizing (tec hnology organized) connective action network is the
hybrid pattern introduced above. This middle type involves formal organizational
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FIGURE 1 Elements of connective and collective action networks.
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actors stepping back from projecting strong agendas, political brands, and collec-
tive identities in favor of using resources to deploy social technologies enabling
loose public networks to form around personalized action themes. The middle
type may also encompass more informal organizational actors that develop
some capacities of conventional organizations in terms of resource mobilization
and coalition building without imposing strong brands and collective identities.
For example, many of the General Assemblies in the occupy protests became
resource centers, with regular attendance, division of labor, allocation of
money and food, and coordination of actions. At the same time, the larger com-
munication networks that swirled around these protest nodes greatly expanded
the impact of the network. The surrounding technology networks invited loose
tied participation that was often in tension with the face-to-face ethos of the
assemblies, where more committed protesters spent long hours with dwindling
numbers of peers debating on how to expand participation without diluting the
levels of commitment and action that they deemed key to their value scheme.
Thus, even as occupy displayed some organizational development, it was
defined by its self-organizing roots.
Networks in this hybrid model engage individuals in causes that might not be
of such interest if stronger demands for membership or subscribing to collective
demands accompanied the organizational offerings. Organizations facilitating
these action networks typically deploy an array of custom built (e.g. ‘send your
message’) and outsourced (e.g. Twitter) communication technologies. This
pattern fit the PPF demonstrations discussed earlier, where some 160 civil
society organizations including major NGOs such as Oxfam, Tearfund, Catholic
Relief, and World Wildlife Fund stepped back from their organizational brands
to form a loose social network inviting publics to engage with each other and take
action. They did this even as they negotiated with other organizations over such
things as separate days for the protests (Bennett & Segerberg 2011).
The for mations in the middle type reflect the pressures that Bimber et al.
(2005) observed in interest organizations that are suffering declining member-
ships and have had to develop looser, more entrepreneurial relations with fol-
lowers. Beyond the ways in which particular organizations use social
technologies to develop loose ties with followers, many organizations also
develop loose ties with other organizations to form vast online networks
sharing and bridging various causes. Although the scale and complexity of
these networks differ from the focus of Granovetter’s (1973) observations
about the strength of weak ties in social networks, we associate this idea with
the elements of connective action: the loose organizational linkages, technology
deployments, and personal action frames. In observing the hybrid pattern of issue
advocacy organizations facilitating personalized protest networks, we traced a
number of economic justice and environmental networks, charting protests,
campaigns, and issue networks in the UK, Germany, and Sweden (Bennett &
Segerberg, forthcoming).
In each case, we found (with theoretically interesting
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variations) campaigns, protest events, and everyday issue advocacy networks that
displayed similar organizational signatures: (a) familiar NGOs and other civil
society organizations joining loosely together to provide something of a network-
ing backbone, (b) for digital media networks engaging publics with contested
political issues, yet with (c) remarkably few efforts to brand the issues around
specific organizations, own the messages, or control the understandings of indi-
vidual participants. The organizations had their political agendas on offer, to be
sure, but, as members of issue networks, put the public face on the individual
citizen and provided social technologies to enable personal engagement
through easy-to-share images and personal action frames.
The organizations that refrain from strongly branding their causes or policy
agendas in this hybrid model do not necessarily give up their missions or agendas
as name brand public advocacy organizations. Instead, some organizations inter-
ested in mobilizing large and potentially WUNC-y publics in an age of social net-
working are learning to shift among different organizational repertoires,
morphing from being hierarchical, mission-driven NGOs in some settings to
being facilitators in loosely linked public engagement networks in others. As
noted by Chadwick (2007, 2011), organizational hybridity makes it difficult to
apply fixed categories to many organizations as they variously shift from being
issue advocacy NGOs to policy think tanks, to SMOs running campaigns or pro-
tests, to multi-issue organizations, to being networking hubs for connective
action. In other words, depending on when, where, and how one observes an
organization, it may appear differently as an NGO, SMO, INGO, TNGO,
NGDO (non governmental organization, social movement organization, inter-
national non governmental organization, transnational non governmental organ-
ization, non governmental development organization), an interest advocacy
group, a political networking hub, and so on. Indeed, one of the advantages of
seeing the different logics at play in our typology is to move away from fixed
categorization schemes, and observe actually occurring combinations of different
types of action within complex protest ecologies, and shifts in dominant types in
response to events and opportunities over time.
The real world is of course far messier than this three-type model. In some
cases, we see action formations corresponding to our three models side by side in
the same action space. The G20 London protest offered a rare case in which
organizationally enabled and more conventional collective action were neatly
separated over different days. More often, the different forms layer and
overlap, perhaps with violence disrupting otherwise peaceful mobilizations as
occurred in the Occupy Rome protests on 15 October 2011, and in a number
of occupy clashes with police in the United States. In still other action cycles,
we see a movement from one model to another over time. In some relatively
distributed networks, we observe a pattern of informal organizational resource
seeking, in which informal organizational resources and communication spaces
are linked and shared (e.g. re-tweeted), enabling emergent political concerns
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and goals to be nurtured without being co-opted by existing organizations and
their already fixed political agendas. This pattern occurred in the self-organizing
Twitter network that emerged around the 15th UN climate summit in Copenha-
gen. As the long tail of that network handed its participants off to the Twitter
stream devoted to the next summit in Cancun, we saw an increase in links to
organizations of various kinds, along with growing links to and among climate
bloggers (Segerberg & Bennett 2011). Such variations on different organizational
forms offer intriguing opportunities for further analyses aimed at explaining
whether mobilizations achieve various goals, and attain different levels of
In these varying ways, personalized connective action networks cross paths
(sometimes with individual organizations morphing in the process) with more
conventional collective action networks centered on SMOs, interest organiz-
ations, and brand-conscious NGOs. As a result, while we argue that these net-
works are an organizational form in themselves, they are often hard to grasp and
harder to analyze because they do not behave like formal organizations. Most
formal organizations are centered (e.g. located in physical space), hierarchical,
bounded by mission and territory, and defined by relatively known and countable
memberships (or in the case of political parties, known and reachable demo-
graphics). By contrast, many of today’s issue and cause networks are relatively
de-centered (constituted by multiple organizations and many direct and cyber
activists), distributed, or flattened organizationally as a result of these multiple
centers, relatively unbounded, in the sense of crossing both geographical and
issue borders, and dynamic in terms of the changing populations who may opt
in and out of play as different engagement opportunities are presented
(Bennett 2003, 2005). Understanding how connective action engages or fails
to engage diverse populations constitutes part of the analytical challenge ahead.
Compared to the vast number of theoretically grounded studies on social
movement organizing, there is less theoretical work that helps explain the
range of collective action formations running from relatively self-organizing to
organizationally enabled connective action networks. While there are many
descriptive and suggestive accounts of this kind of action, many of them insightful
(e.g. Castells 2000; Rheingold 2002), we are concerned that the organizational
logic and underlying dynamic of such action is not well established. It is impor-
tant to gain clearer understandings of how such networks function and what
organizing principles explain their growing prominence in contentious politics.
DNA is emerging during a historic shift in late modern democracies in which,
most notably, younger citizens are moving away from parties, broad reform
movements, and ideologies. Individuals are relating differently to organized
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politics, and many organizations are finding they must engage people differently:
they are developing relationships to publics as affiliates rather than members, and
offering them personal options in ways to engage and express themselves. This
includes greater choice over contributing content, and introduces micro-organ-
izational resources in terms of personal networks, content creation, and technol-
ogy development skills. Collective action based on exclusive collective
identifications and strongly tied networks continues to play a role in this political
landscape, but this has become joined by, interspersed with, and in some cases
supplanted by personalized collective action formations in which digital media
become integral organizational parts. Some of the resulting DNA networks
turn out to be surprisingly nimble, demonstrating intriguing flexibility across
various conditions, issues, and scale.
It has been tempting for some critics to dismiss participation in such net-
works as noise, particularly in reaction to sweeping proclamations by enthusiasts
of the democratic and participatory power of digital media. Whether from digital
enthusiasts or critics, hyperbole is unhelpful. Understanding the democratic
potential and effectiveness of instances of connective and collective action
requires careful analysis. At the same time, there is often considerably more
going on in DNA than clicktivism or facile organizational outsourcing of social
networking to various commercial sites.
The key point of our argument is
that fully explaining and understanding such action and contention requires
more than just adjusting the classic social movement collective action
schemes. Connective action has a logic of its own, and thus attendant dynamics
of its own. It deserves analysis on its own terms.
The linchpin of connective action is the formative element of ‘sharing’: the
personalization that leads actions and content to be distributed widely across
social networks. Communication technologies enable the growth and stabiliz-
ation of network structures across these networks. Together, the technological
agents that enable the constitutive role of sharing in these contexts displace
the centrality of the free-rider calculus and, with it, by extension, the
dynamic that flows from it most obviously, the logical centrality of the
resource-rich organization. In its stead, connective action brings the action
dynamics of recombinant networks into focus, a situation in which networks
and communication become something more than mere preconditions and infor-
mation. What we observe in these networks are applications of communication
technologies that contribute an organizational principle that is different from
notions of collective action based on core assumptions about the role of
resources, networks, and collective identity. We call this different structuring
principle the logic of connective action.
Developing ways to analyze connective action formations will give us more
solid grounds for returning to the persistent questions of whether such action can
be politically effective and sustained (Tilly 2004; Gladwell 2010; Morozov
2011). Even as the contours of political action may be shifting, it is
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imperative to develop means of thinking meaningfully about the capacities of sus-
tainability and effectiveness in relation to connective action and to gain a systema-
tic understanding of how such action plays out in different contexts and
The string of G20 protests surrounding the world financial crisis illustrate
that different organizational strategies played out in different political settings
produce a wide range of results. The protests at the Pittsburgh and Toronto
G20 summits of 2009 and 2010, respectively, were far more chaotic and dis-
played far less WUNC than those organized under the banner of PPF in
London. Disrupted by police assaults and weak organizational coordination,
the Pittsburgh protests displayed a cacophony of political messages that were
poorly translated in the press and even became the butt of late night comedy rou-
tines. The Daily Show sent a correspondent to Pittsburgh and reported on a spec-
trum of messages that included: a Free Tibet matching cymbal band, Palestinian
peace advocates, placards condemning genocide in Darfur, hemp and marijuana
awareness slogans, and denunciations of the beef industry, along with the more
expected condemnations of globalization and capitalism. One protester carried a
sign saying ‘I protest everything’, and another dressed as Batman stated that he
was protesting the choice of Christian Bale to portray his movie hero. The cor-
respondent concluded that the Pittsburgh protests lacked unity of focus and
turned for advice to some people who knew how to get the job done:
members of the Tea Party. The Daily Show panel of Tea Party experts included
a woman wearing a black Smith & Wesson holster that contained a wooden cru-
cifix with an American flag attached. When asked what the Pittsburgh protesters
were doing wrong, they all agreed that there was a message problem. One said,
‘I still don’t know what their message is’ and another affirmed, ‘Stay on message
and believe what you say’. The Daily Show report cut back to show a phalanx of
Darth Vader-suited riot police lined up against the protesters according to the
correspondent, the ‘one single understandable talking point’ in Pittsburgh (Daily
Show 2009). Humor aside, this example poses a sharp contrast to the more
orderly London PPF protests that received positive press coverage of the main
themes of economic and environmental justice (Bennett & Segerberg 2011).
The challenge ahead is to understand when DNA becomes chaotic and
unproductive and when it attains higher levels of focus and sustained engagement
over time. Our studies suggest that differing political capacities in networks
depend, among other things, on whether (a) in the case of organizationally
enabled DNA, the network has a stable core of organizations sharing communi-
cation linkages and deploying high volumes of personal engagement mechanisms
or (b) in the case of self-organizing DNA, the digital networks are redundant and
dense with pathways for individual networks to converge, enabling viral trans-
mission of personally appealing action frames to occur.
Attention to connective action will neither explain all contentious politics
nor does it replace the model of classic collective action that remains useful
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for analyzing social movements. But, it does shed light on an important mode of
action making its mark in contentious politics today. A model focused primarily
on the dynamics of classic collective action has difficulties accounting for impor-
tant elements in the Arab spring, the indignados, the occupy demonstrations, or
the global protests against climate change. A better understanding of connective
action promises to fill some of these gaps. Such understanding is essential if we
are to attain a critical perspective on some of the prominent forms of public
engagement in the digital age.
The article builds on work supported by the Swedish Researc h Council grant
Dnr. 421-2010-2303. It benefited from comments received on earlier versions,
including those presented at the ECPR General Conference 2011 and the iCS/
OII Symposium ‘A Decade of Internet Time’. The authors particularly wish to
thank Bruce Bimber, Bob Boynton, Andrew Chadwick, Nils Gustafsson, Rasmus
Kleis Nielsen, Annette Schnabel, Sidney Tarrow, and the anonymous referees for
excellent comments.
1 Simultaneous protests were held in other European cities with tens of
thousands of demonstrators gathering in the streets of Berlin,
Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, and Rome.
2 US Vice President Joe Biden asked for patience from understandably
upset citizens while leaders worked on solutions, and the British
Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown, said: ... the action we
want to take (at the G20) is designed to answer the questions that
the protesters have today’ (Vinocur & Barkin 2009).
4 Beyond the high volume of Spanish press coverage, the story of the
indignados attracted world attention. BBC World News devoted no
fewer than eight stories to this movement over the course of two
months, including a feature on the march of one group across the
country to Madrid, with many interviews and encounters in the
words of the protesters themselves.
5 For example, our analyses of the US occupy protests show that increased
media attention to economic inequality in America was associated with
the coverage of the occupy protests. While political elites were often
reluctant to credit the occupiers with their newfound concern about
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inequality, they nonetheless seemed to find the public opinion and media
climate conducive to addressing the long-neglected issue.
6 A Google searc h of ‘put people first g20’ more than two years after
the London events produced nearly 1.5 million hits, with most of
them relevant to the events and issues of the protests well into 75
search pages deep.
7 We would note, however, that carnivalesque or theatrical expressions
may entail strategically de-personalized forms of expression in which
individuals take on other personae that often have historically or dra-
matically scripted qualities. We thank Stefania Milan for this comment.
8 We are not arguing here that all contemporary analyses of collective
action rely on resource mobilization explanations (although some
do). Our point is that whether resource assumptions are in the fore-
ground or background, many collective action analyses typically rely
on a set of defining assumptions centered on the importance of
some degree of formal organization and some degree of strong collec-
tive identity that establishes common bonds among participants. These
elements become more marginal in thinking about the organization of
connective action.
9 While we focus primarily on cases in late modern, postindustrial
democracies, we also attempt to develop theoretical propositions
that may apply to other settings such as the Arab Spring, where
authoritarian rule may also result in individualized populations that
fall outside of sanctioned civil society organization, yet may have
direct or indirect access to communication technologies such as
mobile phones.
10 Routledge and Cumbers (2009) make a similar point in discussing
horizontal and vertical models as useful heuristics for organizational
logics in global justice networks (cf. Robinson & Tormey 2005;
Juris 2008).
11 We are indebted to Bob Boynton for pointing out that this sharing
occurs both in trusted friends networks such as Facebook and in
more public exchange opportunities among strangers of the sort
that occur on YouTube, Twitter, or blogs. Understanding the dynamics
and interrelationships among these different media networks and their
intersections is an important direction for research.
12 We have developed methods for mapping networks and inventorying
the types of digital media that enable actions and information to flow
through them. Showing how networks are constituted in part by tec h-
nology enables us to move across levels of action that are often difficult
to theor ize. Network technologies enable thinking about individuals,
organizations, and networks in one broad framework. This approach
thus revises the starting points of classic collective action models,
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which typically examine the relationships between individuals and
organizations and between organizations. We expand this to include
technologies that enable the formation of fluid action networks in
which agency becomes shared or distributed across individual actors
and organizations as networks reconfigure in response to changing
issues and events (Bennett et al. 2011).
13 (accessed 19 October 2011).
14 We wish to emphasize that there is much face-to-face organizing work
going on in many of these networks, and that the daily agendas and
decisions are importantly shaped offline. However, the connectivity
and flow of action coordination occurs importantly online.
15 We thank the anonymous referee for highlighting this subtype.
16 Our empirical investigations focused primarily on two types of networks
that display local, national, and transnational reach: networks to
promote economic justice via more equitable north south trade
norms (fair trade) and networks for environmental and human protec-
tion from the effects of global warming (climate change). These networks
display impressive levels of collective action and citizen engagement and
they are likely to remain active into the foreseeable future. They often
intersect by sharing campaigns in local, national, and transnational
arenas. As such, these issue networks represent good cases for assessing
the uses of digital technologies and different action frames (from person-
alized to collective) to engage and mobilize citizens, and to examine
various related capacities and effects of those engagement efforts.
17 Technology is not neutral. The question of the degree to which various
collectivities have both appropriated and become dependent on the
limitations of commercial technology platforms such as Flickr, Face-
book, Twitter, or YouTube is a matter of considerable importance.
For now, suffice it to note that at least some of the technologies
and their networking capabilities are designed by activists for creating
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W. Lance Bennett is Professor of Political Science and Ruddick C. Lawrence
Professor of Communication at University of Washington Seattle, where he
directs the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement (www.engaged Address: Department of Political Science and Communication, Uni-
versity of Washington, 101 Gowen Hall, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
Alexandra Segerberg is a Research Fellow at the Department of Political
Science, Stockholm University. Address: Department of Political Science,
Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. [email: alex.segerberg@]
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... On the other hand, different from centralized and hierarchical offline advocacy, decentralized social media form networked publics (Ausserhofer & Maireder, 2013), a mediated public sphere where diverse stakeholders across sectors, social spheres, and geographies contribute voices, gain attention, and set agendas. Social media's network effect could create cascading message diffusion and mobilization, which later translate into political actions and policy changes (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012;Jackson et al., 2020;Jung & Valero, 2016). Hence, research on "who echoes" illustrates how such a cascade effect of message diffusion may occur in complex, multistakeholder online environments. ...
... Just as traditional media create public spheres for policy deliberations and civic participation, social media afford a virtual public sphere for social exchanges, theorized as networked publics (Bruns & Highfield, 2015). The defining features of such networked publics include low barrier to participation, diffusion, and collective actions through decentralized online social networks (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012), as well as participation from different spheres with distinct interests and often opposing ideologies (Bruns & Highfield, 2015). These characteristics offer nonprofits ample opportunities previously unavailable in offline advocacy. ...
... Because of the openness of the platforms, a broad array of stakeholders participate, alongside nonprofits, on the same platform. Social media enable personalized engagement that leads actions and content to be distributed widely across loosely organized social networks, particularly "diffused stakeholders" and "issue publics" who might not be otherwise visible, salient, or identifiable in traditional offline settings (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012;Turunen & Weinryb, 2020). ...
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How do nonprofits advocate and shape climate conversations on Twitter? We answer this question by combining computational analyses with thick descriptions of discursive data to analyze message diffusion on Twitter. We first map a temporal message similarity network comprising 298,073 unique tweets sent by climate action and obstruction nonprofits. We then identify four leading nonprofits and trace their message similarity to 2,479 accounts over 2 weeks. Our results suggest that while climate obstruction nonprofits might not be frequent tweeters, their voices are highly reciprocal in the Twitterverse. We also find that messages of either side are most echoed by the public rather than elite audiences. Although diffusion to policymakers is almost absent, we uncover high semantic similarities between messages from climate obstruction nonprofits and bot-like accounts. Our analyses contribute to new theoretical and empirical insights into the roles of nonprofit conversation leaders and their potential message diffusion in climate discourse.
... The pervasive global reach of the internet bestows upon online activism the unique capacity to surmount national boundaries and cultivate solidarity among individuals and collectives across disparate countries. Online campaigns and movements propagated through social media channels exhibit an exceptional propensity for swiftly amassing international recognition and support, thereby facilitating collective action on a global scale (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012). This interconnectedness engenders intricate networks of activism, uniting individuals hailing from diverse backgrounds under the banner of shared causes, effectively transcending the constraints imposed by geographical, cultural, and linguistic divides. ...
... Furthermore, it is important to recognize that slacktivism frequently serves as an initial step for individuals who are new to the realm of activism. Bennett and Segerberg (2012) introduced the concept of "clicktivism," which posits that these lightweight online actions can act as gateways to deeper and more meaningful forms of participation. For individuals just beginning their journey into activism, these easily accessible, low-threshold actions provide an avenue to acquaint themselves with a cause and progressively transition into more substantial levels of engagement. ...
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We are currently the beneficiaries of the aspirations of our predecessors, who ardently pursued ideals such as safety, access to quality medical care, social justice, and an effective life. Significantly, and particularly pertinent to our discussion here, we have been granted the power of expression. In today's world, virtually anyone can articulate their views on a wide spectrum of social and political subjects. This fundamental right has been so comprehensively realized that even various unelected authorities have been compelled to devise alternative methods to suppress the freedom of speech. On a theoretical level, one might assume that everything is ideally aligned with the visions of our forebears. However, practical reality paints a more ambiguous picture. Some scholars have employed the somewhat disparaging term "slacktivism" to argue that the impact of online engagement in the public sphere may not be as transformative as initially anticipated. While individuals undoubtedly possess the means to voice their opinions, the question arises as to whether online activism has produced substantial change. In this scholarly inquiry, we undertake a critical examination of the efficacy of activism through social media channels and explore strategies for maximizing its potential.
... Luego, a fines de los 90, pero con mayor solidez en los 2000, la irrupción de la tecnología digital generó una nueva forma de protestar (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012), ya que sus características intrínsecas hacían que dos aspectos fundamentales para la movilización -la publicación de contenido y la organización-fuesen accesibles, baratos e inmediatos, incentivando significativamente la participación (Diani, 2000). Esto no quiere decir que esta forma de protestar haya reemplazado a la anterior, sino que comparten espacios en las practicas sociales y se complementan, de la misma forma en la que los movimientos sociales identitarios no reemplazaron a los laborales (Della Porta & Diani, 2006). ...
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Este artículo se enmarca en el estallido social de octubre de 2019 en Chile, una serie de protestas masivas en diferentes ciudades del país que demandaban cambios políticos, económicos, sociales y culturales. A través de una recolección fotográfica (298 fotos) de las imágenes (n=1211) plasmadas en los muros del epicentro de las protestas de la ciudad de Santiago de Chile durante las primeras dos semanas de las movilizaciones, y utilizando el método de análisis de contenido, este artículo busca definir los principales temas representados en las demandas populares y explorar la participación pública en este contexto. El análisis evidencia que las principales cuestiones expresadas visualmente por los protestantes fueron el rechazo a la estructura política chilena y la denuncia al excesivo uso de la fuerza pública, y se concentraron principalmente en cuatro grupos: violencia, política, identidades y amor. Asimismo, muestra la adhesión a nuevas temáticas ajenas a los principales detonantes de las protestas, como la defensa de los derechos de minorías identitarias y las denuncias de violencia en la misma protesta, la reproducción de signos preestablecidos y el surgimiento de nuevos imaginarios alineados con los discursos populares. Finalmente, este estudio visibiliza el rol de las expresiones visuales que, independiente de su calidad gráfica, participan de todas formas en la construcción de sentido de la contingencia política.
... Social movement scholars, Bennett & Segerberg (2012) theorized and explained that social media could transfer connective action to collected action. One example of connective action to collective action is the "Women's March" in Pakistan. ...
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The study examines the involvement of men in the women's movement in Pakistan, which is a patriarchal society. The interviews with progressive men and women, who are actively engaged in the feminist movement in Pakistan reveal the changing dynamics of family structure in Pakistan, and discussed the emerging role of the liberal father as male allyship in women's emancipation and eliminating gender inequalities. The study discusses the effects of digital feminism in Pakistan in involving men in the women's movement as bridging social capital, producing responsible behavior among men, and challenging patriarchy through new fathers. In a patriarchal society, where the dominancy of the father is blindly followed, digital feminism is now altering the father's rule into male allies, producing a concept of new a father, which is challenging the patriarchal notions of masculinity and hegemony. The new father is a symbol of a new dominant figure, who is responsible and transforming the domestic patriarchy, to maintain equality at home and would bring change to the social structure at large.
... Thus, frames from social media content can promote alternative viewpoints on a political issue (Hamdy & Gomaa, 2012). Owing to the ephemeral attention of online audiences, social media frames can create "ad hoc issue publics" (Meraz & Papacharissi, 2013, p. 144) of which members may have multiple, scenario-specific affiliations (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012). ...
Given that political groups are dispersed across platforms, resulting in different discourses, there is a need for more studies comparing communication across platforms. In this study, we compared posts about #StopTheSteal from three social media platforms after the 2020 US Presidential election and preceding the January 6 Capitol Riot. To do so, we utilized Snow and Benford’s typology of social movement frames—diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational frames—in the context of far-right movements and an additional frame device: violence cues. This study focused on the following three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Parler. We built three corpora of social media data: 26,093 Facebook posts, 248,643 tweets, and 400,600 Parler posts. Using Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) classifiers, dictionary methods, and qualitative text analysis, we find that the use of these frames varies by platform, with users on the alt-tech platform Parler using violence cues such as “smash” and “combat,” suggesting a greater call to action relative to the mainstream platforms.
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Статья посвящена роли локальных цифровых платформ (гражданских медиа) в городских конфликтах. Мы обращаемся к теории коннективного действия, анализирующей современные формы мобилизации (совместных действий по достижению определенных целей), которые разворачиваются онлайн или на стыке онлайн/офлайн и соотносятся с более широкой политической повесткой (например, движениями “Occupy” и “Indignados”), и рассматриваем, как эта теория работает в случае локальных объединений, связанных с решением городских проблем. Основываясь на материалах исследований, проведенных в 2018—2020 гг. в российских городах-миллионниках (Самаре, Новосибирске, Санкт-Петербурге и Москве), мы выделяем четыре базовых типа локальных коннективных действий и иллюстрируем их примерами конкретных градозащитных кампаний. Эти типы различаются по двум параметрам: 1) уровню монополизации кампании одной цифровой платформой и 2) характеру распределения ответственности и агентности в рамках кампании между инициативной группой, выступающей администратором онлайн-страниц, и подписчиками. Благодарность. Исследование выполнено за счет гранта Российского научного фонда, проект № 1878-10054-П «Механизмы согласования интересов в процессах развития городских территорий».
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El presente estudio analiza la cobertura que recibieron las protestas contra la Policía, en Colombia, en septiembre de 2020, a través de las informaciones publicadas por las cuentas de los cuatro portales noticiosos de mayor tráfico y consulta en Facebook. El objetivo es analizar si el paradigma de la protesta se presenta ahora en el ecosistema de las redes sociales. Tras un análisis de contenido digital de corte mixto se pudo comprender cómo se construyeron los marcos de interpretación de las protestas desde las representaciones lingüísticas, visuales e ideológicas/discursivas, y desde los encuadres empleados por los medios. Los resultados validaron que los portales informativos replican los patrones del paradigma de la protesta en las redes sociales, por lo cual terminan deslegitimando y desdibujando los motivos de la movilización ciudadana.
This study analyzes how platform affordances, their appropriation by movement actors, and these actors’ leveraging of information ecosystems—in combination—helped form a digital counterpublic during the COVID-19 pandemic. It draws on public communication data sent by more than 300 Telegram channels and group chats affiliated with the Querdenken movement over a 2-year period, and combines automated and manual text classification with network analysis. The study demonstrates how Telegram afforded connective and collective action in distinct ways that reflected the movement’s organizational structure and aims, as well as the impact of individual information-sharing on the process of movement-building itself. Accounting for time-dependent dynamics, the study also found that different parts of the counterpublic latched onto and sustained distinct information ecosystems to articulate their claims and mobilize contentious action.
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The Logic of Connective Action explains the rise of a personalized digitally networked politics in which diverse individuals address the common problems of our times such as economic fairness and climate change. Rich case studies from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany illustrate a theoretical framework for understanding how large-scale connective action is coordinated using inclusive discourses such as “We Are the 99%” that travel easily through social media. in many of these mobilizations, communication operates as an organizational process that may replace or supplement familiar forms of collective action based on organizational resource mobilization, leadership, and collective action framing. in some cases, connective action emerges from crowds that shun leaders, as when Occupy protesters created media networks to channel resources and create loose ties among dispersed physical groups. in other cases, conventional political organizations deploy personalized communication logics to enable large-scale engagement with a variety of political causes. The Logic of Connective Action shows how power is organized in communication-based networks, and what political outcomes may result.
In recent decades the study of social movements, revolution, democratization and other non-routine politics has flourished. And yet research on the topic remains highly fragmented, reflecting the influence of at least three traditional divisions. The first of these reflects the view that various forms of contention are distinct and should be studied independent of others. Separate literatures have developed around the study of social movements, revolutions and industrial conflict. A second approach to the study of political contention denies the possibility of general theory in deference to a grounding in the temporal and spatial particulars of any given episode of contention. The study of contentious politics are left to 'area specialists' and/or historians with a thorough knowledge of the time and place in question. Finally, overlaid on these two divisions are stylized theoretical traditions - structuralist, culturalist, and rationalist - that have developed largely in isolation from one another. This book was first published in 2001.
Social movements have an elusive power but one that is altogether real. From the French and American revolutions to the post-Soviet, ethnic, and terrorist movements of today, contentious politics exercises a fleeting but powerful influence on politics, society, and international relations. This study surveys the modern history of the modern social movements in the West and their diffusion to the global South through war, colonialism, and diffusion, and it puts forward a theory to explain its cyclical surges and declines. It offers an interpretation of the power of movements that emphasizes effects on the lives of militants, policy reforms, political institutions, and cultural change. The book focuses on the rise and fall of social movements as part of contentious politics in general and as the outcome of changes in political opportunities and constraints, state strategy, the new media of communication, and transnational diffusion.